The Western. One man walking into town, men with guns, shootouts, the wide open country. A valentine to what was and a myth simultaneously. What is to you? What are the best examples? Why does it last?
Loved the old TV westerns. A local channel would run them one after the other on Saturday afternoons. Laramie, Laredo, High Chaparral, Wild, Wild, West, loved them. I also enjoyed the more modern ones like The Magnificent Seven from the late 90s
I think they endure because of the romantic idea of anyone could go West and with enough hard work, make their fortune. It’s also a very American form of entertainment. I think the only other country that really has the equivalent would be Australia.
I see a lot of folks saying they don’t care for westerns, even on my movie site, among die-hard film buffs.
I don’t know, maybe it’s my age, I grew up with them, John Wayne was my first favorite actor. What was the appeal? I’m not really into roughing it, or horses or guns. I am drawn to the ‘hero who stands up for the little guy’ types (which might be why I read superhero comics as a kid too)
Shane was a good example of that.
But I also enjoyed the psychological westerns of Anthony Mann, the anti-heroes of the Spaghetti’s and the grim, Eastwood flicks of the 70s and beyond.
I enjoy the genre so much I made a list of the best westerns by year (though in some years, it was near impossible to find a really great or even good western). But if you’re curious to see the titles, I’ll share…
and yes, I know I’ve committed cinematic blasphemy by not selecting High Noon in its year of eligibility
@JakeGittes Out of sheer curiosity, have you longer lists by year when the Western is in its prime in the 50s and 60s?
I name some nominees in the notes, but no individual lists by film season
Phenomenal list. I could ask why High Noon (1952) isn’t #1 in its year. The question I have instead is Silverado (1985) over Pale Rider (1985)? Kasdan’s film is fine while Eastwood’s to me ages like fine wine.
Just different tastes. High Noon’s good, but I don’t revere it as others do, something about it fails to really get its hooks in me - for some, it’s an “OMG this is the greatest thing ever!” Me, I have a reserved, “yeah, that was fine” reaction to it, and much prefer Bend of the River.
I like Pale Rider, but I love Silverado. And IMHO, Rider “pales” (sorry) by comparison to the other Eastwood westerns - Unforgiven, High Plains Drifter, and Josey Wales tower above it. There was really no debate in that year, it was Silverado (I did debate the High Noon/Bend of the River selection, for a spell)
Respectively I’m of the opposite persuasion. You said it, “different tastes.” What I’ll speak to in terms of Pale Rider (1985) is it grows on you. It is an 80s Shane (1983), a transitional western between Clint’s 70s fare and Unforgiven (1992), and a dry run of the serious subjects covered in Unforgiven. It’s off-putting initially and as you return to it the telling softens and deepens. A mediation on the form and purpose of the Western, Pale Rider recreates the spiritual and symbolic functions of the tradition and grafts its own designs to that pictorial and deliberate signature. It is a lot to absorb on a first or second viewing and it is aloof where you draw your own conclusions. These beats enrich the narrative as you return to it year after year or has for me. As for Silverado (1985)? It embodies the livelier romantic adventure of the form and is a welcome nod to past examples like The Magnificent Seven (1960) and the actors leap off the screen. Of the two, Pale Rider draws me more while I’ll won’t dismiss Silverado’s charm.
Yeah, I own it and have seen it several times over the years, and I understood and saw what it was saying. It wasn’t off-putting initially for me, nor was it too much to absorb on a first viewing.
@JakeGittes I wasn’t speaking of you per say. Just my experiences discussing the movie with others and their perspectives over time and my own. “To each his own…” my friend.
Westerns are very much a generational thing. I can remember being bored spending time at my grandparent’s house in the 90s because all they would watch were old Gunsmoke episodes. Essentially, it is American Fantasy. I don’t mind the genre so much now.
Bonanza and The Big Valley were my westerns of choice as a kid. They were finished running by then, but they were in syndication. The darker, more realistic post-Eastwood phase of westerns have a lot going for them, but I’ll always have a soft spot for those simple, family-friendly hero stories.
They are graded neck and neck at movie sites (IMDB, Letterboxd), so it’s a close race among the masses. And as you said, they are doing 2 different things with the genre.
Also - I like to share the wealth on my “best ofs”, and Eastwood was pretty well represented either as an actor or director.
Bend vs Noon was the most difficult because traditionally, you go with Noon. But I looked at my 1950s list and I had Bend ranked higher - then I decided to watch them both back to back, and yeah, I thought, “I know that’s an oddball and I might get grief, but…” I really did prefer Bend.
As for TV talk - I grew up watching Gunsmoke and Bonzana, the parents liked them so they were regular viewings in the house.
MeTV used to show The Rifleman at a time when I was getting home from work, and I’d kick back and watch that. Good family western, and a loving relationship between a father and son that I liked.
Plus, you get some fun Rifleman quips in Village of the Giants
This is a good list. I’m also not a huge fan of High Noon. After the '50s things get a little murky for me, but I might put Destry Rides Again over Stagecoach as my blasphemy
I didn’t really get into Westerns until I was in my 30s. Then I saw a series at the local bijou and it was kind of eye-opening.
Destry’s really good, I wouldn’t give anyone a hard time over selecting it.
Stagecoach I liked well enough on my first viewing, but I’ve come to enjoy it even more in my old age. One thing that can be a strike against Ford for me, is his humor, I find him awfully heavy-handed with it, but the last time I watched it (Stagecoach), I thought, he really blended the comedy and the drama and tension as well as he ever has.
But yeah, no shame in choosing Destry,
And I wouldn’t fault anyone for “preferring” (insofar as that word makes sense at this level of art) Stagecoach. I think for me it’s that Destry is so different that makes it stand out.
Huge fan of The Wind, too. A few of your movies (like that one) I was sort of “You know, I didn’t really think of that as a western.”
It was pretty slim in spots, especially in the 30s to mid-40s (and the recent decades too), so I used a broad definition, considered pioneer tales, contemporary westerns, etc. I thought The Rider might be pushing it, but I saw it included on several western lists, so I used it.
Yea! Other people like Silverado! I have been told that it’s a terrible movie but I’ve always liked it.
I grew up with John Wayne because my dad is a fan. I like McClintock. Even if I’m not the biggest Western fan, I absolutely hated The Cowboys because John Wayne is not supposed to die in his movies. That’s just wrong. I’m sure there were redeeming values to it, but all I remember is that John Wayne dies.
On the comedy side of Westerns, I like Support Your Local Sheriff. It’s silly and does play on Western tropes but I think it’s not really mocking them. Just finding the comedic side. Maverick is similar in that respect (the movie at least; I’ll admit that I never saw the series).
And Support Your Local Gunfighter with Jack Elam (not Jack Lalanne) is also good, thought not quite as.
The series is terrific. It’s literally the only Western TV series I ever saw, granted…
Wow! Someone else who has heard of Silverado! I loved that movie when it first came out. ( I think I still have a deck of Silverado playing cards that came with the VHS tape kicking around somewhere.)
And for a completely opposite end of the scale, Tombstone, is another amazing western. Great cast, lots of action.